Can we diagnose cancer earlier?
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A less painful, more accurate method for detecting cancer. It is hard to think of a more meritorious goal for a researcher.

Such methods are possible, and Alla Reznik, a molecular imaging researcher, is hot on their trail.

“My primary focus is on breast cancer and developing a system that is especially helpful for women with dense breasts,” she says. “ My sincere hope is that the creation of new advanced imaging techniques will contribute to the overall health and well-being of cancer patients and their families. I also believe it can provide a safer and more trustworthy technique for diagnosticians and treatment providers.”

Thirty-eight percent of Canadian women and 44 per cent of men will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Twenty-four per cent of women and 29 per cent of men will die from cancer. Early diagnosis can lead to a very high cure rate, but it requires highly sensitive tools for precise, accurate detection.

Mammography can reveal breast cancer tumours, but the process is painful and imperfect for tumours lurking in high-density breast tissue. A less invasive diagnostic method might lead to more women getting screened, more cancers getting caught earlier, and more lives being saved.

Reznik researches “Positron Emission Tomography” or PET scans, which have shown great facility for detecting tumours and determining their malignancy. She’s working to improve the technology, both to do better science, and to improve people’s outcomes.

“I’m involved with a collaboration with Philips Healthcare,” Reznik says. “This partnership provides the opportunity to transfer my research from ‘bench to bedside.’ I am also very passionate our spin-off company, XLV Diagnostics, which uses digital radiology machines for early cancer detection and treatment. For me this means a ‘dual trust’ – improving healthcare and also making jobs in Northwestern Ontario.”

Researchers whose work deals with cancer know that progress is often incremental – most research aims less at a breakthrough “cure for cancer” and more at slow and steady improvements to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

“For me, it’s not about a single discovery or a quantifiable impact,” Reznik says. “It’s about thinking ‘outside the box,’ and developing advanced detector technologies based on exciting, innovative scientific and engineering techniques. It’s about not letting myself be biased by current technologies and the status quo. I want to ensure new medical imaging detectors improve the patients’ lives. As a research, I want to see innovations translate into real benefits.”

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